We need to understand men to solve the equality issue
2nd December 2019
Gender equality and diversity are a constant struggle, one that we have become more aware of through media campaigns, marches, demonstrations and through workplace activities. Yet the pace of change is painfully slow. Diversity and Inclusion is now commonplace, yet discrimination, verbal and physical abuse is on the rise. The murder rates against certain minority groups are increasing and we see little evidence of the trends reversing. If we are making all this effort for equality, women’s, LGBTIQ+, disability, racial and religious equality and we’re struggling, why are we not making the traction that we should?
After all, all we want is for the white, heterosexual men to allow us the same privileges that they benefit from, is that too much to ask? Why do the resist the force of change? Why can’t they give us what we want? What’s wrong with them? What are they missing? What the hell am I missing?
These questions have troubled me all of my life and I think I’ve started to understand a little more through the simple aid of a documentary I saw the other day, ‘The mask you live in’. The documentary opens up and explores what it means to be a man, not just a white, middle-class, heterosexual man, all of those for sure, but more fundamentally, what does it mean to be a man in today’s society. It made me question my own understanding and why, given my background, don’t I get it? Please indulge me as I explain my background and observations, they have some relevance.
I grew up in a male environment, I grew up in my early years as a male, with a military father and an uncle in the Army as role models. I followed that ideal and joined the military myself serving overseas in The Falklands, South America and Norway. But despite this unique exposure to the male society and its rules, I never understood what it meant to be a male, I never felt I belonged, that I was one of them. I never understood why men acted the way they do, what drove their stance on certain issues, why some felt oppressed or others become oppressors. I was a rugby referee back home in Ireland, I was a diving instructor, I drove fast cars, I was to many the typical alpha male, the ex-military, sporty chap and yet it was all just an act to try and help me survive in a world I felt I had no choice but to survive in. Clearly, I can see now that I was wrong, I never needed to pretend to be a man, society just made me feel that I did.
To clarify further, I was born Intersex, that is I was born both male and female. I found out when I was in my early 20’s when I was rushed off a military training exercise due to medical issues. The following surgery started to reveal why, despite my surroundings, did I not feel male and I always believed I was in fact a female. Oh, the irony. Nowadays I’ve accepted my biology and I’ve embraced proudly my gender and now I am the women biology meant me to be. The nurture versus nature argument was clearly balanced in favour of male, I even tried to live as a man, to meet societies expectations, and yet, here I am. Nature won in the end.
I’ve noticed that since my transition that my old career is gone, that as a female I’m no longer welcome in the world of work as I once knew it. After all, my qualifications are the same, my career history hadn’t changed, if anything by embracing my true gender, I’ve become more sympathetic and more rounded as I no longer needed to hide anything. I struggled with the lack of acceptance, so I tried a little experiment. I reissued my CV under my old name, used an old photograph and applied for jobs. I found immediately that the CV for ‘David’ was getting responses that my real CV was being ignored for. The content was identical, all that had changed was my name and photo. I spoke to some close friends who were recruiters who told me that as a female I would not be accepted in a ‘man’s world’ or, because of my gender history, that they wouldn’t represent me as they didn’t want to embarrass their client or themselves as men found it too difficult to cope with.
So, there we have it, my problem was men. Middle-class men who were frightened to either accept a female or, if they knew my history, an intersex female at that. I felt angry, confused, frustrated and, to be honest, a little betrayed as I had once lived in their world, as one of them. But more fundamentally, why couldn’t they just accept working alongside a female? I decided to try and investigate the environment that we make men live under, to try and answer some of the questions I had about men.
This is where for me, the answer started to become clearer. The answer was that it wasn’t women, the disabled, the LGBTIQ+, etc, it was men’s influence upon and expectations of other men. The piece of the puzzle I was missing was that men have to compete with other men, to live up to what they believe a man to be, to be strong, macho, unemotional, strong, hunter-gatherers. There is a fear that if they don’t live up to the accepted image of a man then they will lose the positions, some would say the privilege, that they currently benefit from. Now that’s a generalisation I know, not all men think this way, but most do.
Women in senior roles not only challenge the image of man the leader, but that allowing women into the boardroom opens up further competition. That competition comes in a form that to men is unknown, unpredictable and comes with different influences, behavioural expectations and established norms. Conditions they find it hard to compete against. The word compete was important there, the workplace can be at times like the old roman gladiatorial arenas where verbal and even physical confrontation takes place as promotion and job titles are sought and even fought for. Its relatively rare for a woman to feel the need to react in this manner and this makes for a confusing battle ground for men.
Our society is based upon our past history, our cultural exposure, our role models, it was built over centuries and change is probably going to be slower than we would like it, but change takes time. We can see that in today’s society. Most of us agree that Martin Luther King had a dream, that the dream was just, valid and meaningful. Yet, walk around the projects of New York, the North Carolina cities and it’s clear that the dream is still a long way from being achieved. History is teaching us that change comes, but it comes slowly. Never at the pace it should and definitely not at the pace it must. Demanding only causes frustration and missed expectations and tends to result in anger. Anger is never a good emotional response.
I hate the pace of change, our challenges are with us today, I want them solved yesterday. I want equality. When do I want it? Now! But it won’t happen if we don’t work together to solve it. Let us help men to break free of the expectations that they have to lead, that they cannot cry, that they have to be strong, that anything less is not acceptable. It’s not women against men, it’s jointly our problem.
We need to solve it. Together.